Carmakers need to think about the end to a car’s life right from its beginning if a coherent recycling initiative is to be properly realised. Simon Palmer from gives his view on what needs to be done

Car design has always been governed by function and aesthetics but priorities are changing. We are fast consuming the Earth’s resources and, belatedly, the goal must now be to recycle and re-use the raw materials we have already extracted, instead of using virgin resources. With the Endof- Life Vehicle Directive (ELV) demanding that European states recycle 85 per cent of a car’s weight, what is the automotive industry doing to do this from a design and manufacturing perspective? AMS asked Simon Palmer, the man behind the initiative, for his view on how it could better communicate internally to design cars that took their full lifecycle into account.

Designed to be disposable
“The future of the automotive sector relies to a great extent on its ability to play its part in a more environmentally responsible commercial world. And the industry needs to be collaborating in a more productive manner to aid this process. Those who are experts in the final disposal of vehicles need to be in communication with the manufacturers to make sure that the knowledge gained at the end of the supply chain is being utilised at the design stage to make vehicles better-suited for the recycling process. It’s down to the whole industry to make this happen. “Manufacturers are striving to make vehicles greener during their lifetime; one such example is by utilising lighter materials, such as aluminium, in order to make vehicles more fuel efficient.

However, there are a number of areas where automotive design could be improved. “Perhaps the biggest area where we feel there could be improvement is with airbags. They have a huge role to play in driver safety, but also cause significant problems at the point of disposal. For example, even with electronic airbags, kevlar blankets have to be used to protect operators from hidden dangers when they have to enter a vehicle. The industry needs to implement common research into finding a uniform location under the bonnet for central deployment modules (DCU), from where airbags can be deactivated, minimising the need for access to the vehicle.

Drain on resources
“Those working at authorised treatment facilities (ATFs) would like to see easier access for the draining of shock absorbers, done as part of the disposal process. Presently, 5-10 per cent of them are very difficult to drain properly because of the close proximity of springs and other components, which prevents higher recovery rates. “As well as shock absorbers, improved access is needed across a range of vehicles for the draining of engine coolant. The current method involves the use of a spike, punched into the bottom radiator hose, allowing coolant to be sucked out by a vacuum.

Improvements in design would help make this process more efficient. The disposal industry would also like to see the fitting of drain plugs on all engines, transmissions, differentials and power steering systems. “Fuel tank design is another area where we would like to see changes. It would be advantageous to have one common low point on tanks, as opposed to ‘saddle tanks’ with more than one low point, which increase the time taken to depollute the vehicle, as liquid has to be taken from more than one source.

“With recycling targets set at 95 per cent for 2015, our chances of hitting this figure will be greatly improved if we can boost communication between the different areas of the auto industry. And we can all help in that process, from the ATFs to the vehicle designers. It’s time to talk…”